A woman has been ordered to pay her ex-husband £1.2m, even though the couple had a pre-nuptial agreement that her wealth would be protected in the event of a separation.
The case involved the daughter of one of Britain’s wealthiest men. She received an annual allowance of £81,000 from her father and lived in a large house in central London which he gave her as a gift.
The husband had no assets of note and debts of more than £250,000. The couple had three children and had separated in 2012 after seven years of marriage because of disagreements about money.
The husband was left with no home and was sleeping and working at his mother’s bed and breakfast. The wife remained in the London home.
The husband claimed he was entitled to a share of his ex-wife’s wealth, in order to buy a home suitable for visits from his children.
The judge, Mr Justice Holman, ruled in favour of the husband, and ordered the wife to pay him £1.2m, with the instruction to buy a £900,000 3-bedroom house so that his children were not disrupted when they stayed with him. When the youngest child reached the age of 22, the husband must sell the home but would be entitled to 55% of the proceeds in order to buy a home for himself.
Mr Justice Holman said that in separations it was vital that the “innocent children” were not “caught in the crossfire”, and they must not be unsettled by going from living “in relative luxury” with their mother to “relative penury” with their father.
The wife would have to sell her central London home and move to a less fashionable area in order to pay the settlement.
Mr Justice Holman referenced the Supreme Court ruling in Radmacher v Granatino, which said a “nuptial agreement cannot be allowed to prejudice the reasonable requirements of any children of the family”.
He went on to add: “If all the facts were the same but the genders reversed, it is inconceivable that the agreements would outweigh making a substantial award to the wife.
“I have concluded that the need to provide an adequate home in which the children can visit and stay with their father is very important and does outweigh the upheaval (of the wife selling and moving from her home).”
Pre-nuptial agreements are designed to protect a person’s assets in the event of a separation. The courts will take them into account if they are properly drawn up with the help of a solicitor but they are not legally binding, and the wellbeing and financial stability of both parties must be considered when couples divorce.
The Law Commission recently urged the government to introduce legislation to clarify the legal status of pre-nups. We shall keep clients informed of developments.
Please contact us if you would like more information about divorce settlements, or any other aspect of family law.